LOVE Statue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Wayne and Cathy

William McKinley – His Wife Ida Saxton McKinley

The Major and Miss S

“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” Luke 10:36 KJV

Sometimes, even when everything around me seems to be going badly, I look around and see how I am truly blessed. At work I hear tales of the trials others face and mine don’t look like anything by comparison. Today, if you turn on the TV, you can’t help but notice how unhappy most people seem to be.

One of the biggest components of my life’s contentment wakes up next to me each morning. I know God loves me because there is no way in the world I deserve such a wonderful companion. It is only by His grace that she not only walked into my life, but that she also was willing stay in my life.

One of the greatest gifts of our relationship is watching her be a Mom. When we married, both of her daughters were adults and had moved out and started lives of their own. To me, both of these daughters are truly amazing. They both are smart, cute, fun, and a joy to be around. Even though she was a single Mom, my wife did an absolutely amazing job raising them.

I still remember when my son was born. I came home with that bundle of joy and I thought the world was such a wonderful place. I was on such a high that I just knew nothing would ever tarnish that joy. All too soon he developed his own personality and talents. Soon my thoughts changed to the things I needed to do to help him get to adulthood without losing my sanity in the process.

Then a divorce happened and things were forever changed. I no longer got to witness all those things I dreamed about that first day I brought him home. When you’re an every other weekend Dad, the closeness, like the visits, seems to evaporate. Eventually my child turned into a man.

Being a single parent has to be even harder. All the raising and all the responsibility falls in your lap. You have no spouse to send a misbehaving child to. You have no one to turn to for a break. You wish for better conditions, but you do what you can with what you got. Surprisingly the child still makes it to adulthood.

It is perhaps the most touching love story of all the Presidential romances. It is the story of the Major and Miss Ida Saxton, or “Miss S” as he would affectionately call her. It’s almost a story that never happened.

It was the Civil War and he was a young Union soldier. His acts of heroism were numerous. As a commissary sergeant he organized a wagon train to rush across a bullet ridden battlefield. He also twice had horses shot out from underneath him. But it was during the Battle of Cedar Creek in the upper Shenandoah Valley that his acts of heroism would earn him the promotion of brevet major. This granted him the rank but not the pay of a major. He would carry the nickname of “Major” with him for the rest of his life. He preferred that title to any other, even President.

Miss S, on the other hand, grew up in a prominent Ohio family. Their family was extremely close. She would idolize her grandfather, John Saxton. Her parents wanted her to have the very best education. She would attend Brooke Hall Female Seminary. Brooke not only had a very strong academic program, but also stressed physical fitness. Long walks and hikes would become one of her greatest loves.

Azariah and Ishbak were two of those kids you just knew you were going to read about in the newspaper one day. I don’t mean that in the good sense either. They were the type that, if there was a problem happening, there was probably a ninety percent chance their hands were in it somehow.

Rosh was a different child. He was nice, kind, and usually very quiet. He kept to himself and that wasn’t necessarily his choice. Rosh was from one of those families that everyone in the neighborhood looked down on. Despite always being made fun of, Rosh carried a caring attitude for just about everyone who crossed his path.

Dan was just an average student. He was quite good looking and very popular. Dan sometimes made fun of Rosh because he thought it made him look better. He would feel real sorry about it, but he would never apologize to Rosh for his behavior.

So it is with glowing eyes that I get to watch my wife and the transition of her daughters into adulthood. No one can really see love like a mother can. When a child’s heart breaks so does the mother’s. When a child has lapses in judgment, the mother’s heart breaks again because she knows what is ahead. She would do anything in her power to keep any pain from her child. But a mother’s wisdom and patience also knows that she must let her child experience life in its all its glory and in all its pain.

When a child laughs and is happy, the mother laughs and is happy. When a child needs a hug, somehow the mother just seems to know and she is always there ready to deliver. When a child feels all alone, the mother is always there to remind her that it just isn’t so. Doing stupid things doesn’t stop a mother’s love either. When a child is being stubborn and unwilling to listen to reason, the mother never gives up on the child. She waits for those scarce moments that offer opportunities for reason to slip in.

My love for my wife always continues to grow. Yes, one of the reasons it does is that I get to see how much love she has inside her. I’ve seen the tears, the laughs, the frustrations, the pains, the joys, the pride, the disappointments, and the unconditional love she has for her daughters. I know having her and her love in my life makes it truly special.

When the Major and Miss S’s paths first crossed, he was quite taken by the slim young woman. One of the first things he noticed was her style of eating. The other women ate their food quite daintily. Not Miss S, no she was full of gusto in her dining. She probably hardly even noticed the Major because she was already in a very serious relationship with another, Joseph W. Wright, a major in the Confederate Army.

Eventually Major Wright, not our “Major,” and Miss S became engaged. Miss S decided to take one last, long adventure before their marriage. Mary, who was her sister, and a “chaperone” her father arranged, and Miss S would tour Europe for six months. Miss S would have her ears pierced, drink wine for the first time, walk up to twenty miles a day, and, quite scandalously, the two sisters would allow “gentlemen” to take them to the theater in Paris.

One day in Geneva, Miss S decided to go to the bank. She was exchanging some of her money for Swiss francs and she was also picking up some letters from home. When Mary, arrived back at the hotel, her sister wasn’t there to meet her. She slowly walked back to her sister’s room and cracked open the door. There, on the bed, her sister sat weeping uncontrollably.

Mary, did not have a clue why her sister was so upset. She sat next to her and put her arm around her. She asked, “What’s wrong?” “It’s Major Wright…” she said a tears streamed down her cheek. The stocked sister said, “Major Wright? What’s wrong with Major Wright?” Catching her breath between the bouts of tears, she said, “He’s dead.”

Major Wright had died of meningitis. The sisters would return home to Ohio. Communications and transportation were very slow at this time in our history, so by the time they arrived home the funeral had long since passed. Miss S would fall into a deep depression and she would try to recover by covering up her grief with work.

Miss S and the “Major” we mentioned above, and the future President’s, paths would cross again. After all, what kind of love story would it be if their paths failed to cross again? The Major was a member of her father’s defense team on a case for his bank. She would be more impressed with his speaking skills at an event where he introduced newspaperman Horace Greeley, when the Major was the YMCA president.

The couple courted for about a year and were married on January 25, 1871, at the unfinished First Presbyterian Church. There were a thousand guests in attendance. Miss S was extremely happy now.

Soon after their honeymoon, Miss S’s beloved grandfather died. But Miss S became pregnant, so that distracted some of the attention off the sting of her grandfather’s death. The young girl would be named Katherine, but they would call her Katie. She was born on Christmas day.

Shortly after Katie’s birth there came another tragic death. Miss S’s mother died. Miss S was quite devastated by the loss because she was very close to her mother.

Miss S would quickly get pregnant again. The new baby would arrive in August. They would name her Ida. Again, bad news struck. Two weeks after Ida’s birth, tiny, little Ida would die of cholera. The couple was devastated. Miss S would remain bedridden for six months.

The effects on Miss S would really take a toll on her. Once the Major’s brother asked their daughter Katie to go on a walk. Katie would reply, “No, I mustn’t go out of the yard or God’ll punish Mama some more.”

Miss S would again start suffering depression, severe headaches, acute sensitivity to light, rapid movement, and sound. Miss S also started suffering epileptic fits. When she had these fits her body would stiffen, she would make a hissing sound, and then she would shake uncontrollably. Once she came out of a fit, she was completely unaware that she had one.

More misfortune would follow the Major and Miss S. Two years after their lovely little newborn died, young Katie contracted Scarlet Fever. Sweet young Katie would die. Now Miss S’s epileptic fits would occur more often.

Azariah, Ishbak, Rosh, and Dan all made it to adulthood. Like everyone suspected, Azariah and Ishbak turned into the troublemakers everyone thought they would become. They would team up and form quite the robbery team.

Dan turned into quite the citizen. Although he never made a fortune, he was doing alright financially.

One day Dan was heading into town. Out from behind the bushes stepped Azariah and Ishbak. They demanded that Dan give them all his money. When he refused, they beat him unconscious. They took all his money. They removed all his jewelry. They even robbed him of the fine jacket he was wearing. They then threw him down into the ditch running along the street. As quickly as they appeared, they disappeared.

The local leader of the biggest charity came by a short time later. He saw Dan, who was beaten so badly no one would really recognize him, rolled up in the ditch. Scared, the gentleman moved to the other side of the street and continued on his way.

It wasn’t too long after that the preacher from the biggest church in the area happened to be traveling up the same road. He also saw Dan rolled up in the ditch. He too moved to the other side of the street and continued on his way.

It was getting closer to dark and it was starting to get quite a bit colder. Rosh was traveling up the same road. He was in a big hurry because he had so much to do. He noticed Dan in the ditch. He got off his mule and bent over beside Dan. As Dan laid there unconscious, Rosh took off his coat and wrapped it around Dan.

Dan still did not move. Rosh gently lifted Dan on to his mule and took him to town. He found a hotel and got a room for Dan. He took him up to the room and washed him up and put him to bed. He then went back down to the innkeeper. He reached into his sack and told him, “This is all the money I have with me. Please call a doctor to check him out. Let him stay as long as he needs to. If this doesn’t cover the whole bill, I’ll be back to pay the difference.”

William “Major” McKinley unconditionally accepted his wife’s, Ida “Miss S” Saxton McKinley’s condition. He never harbored any bitterness. He never complained. He loved her so much. He understood what a wonderful gift she was from God. He never questioned the whys of his wife’s situation.

Ida loved being with the Major and every opportunity she had to be with him she took advantage of. William McKinley loved having Ida around, too. One of the biggest issues they faced, though, was they could never tell when Ida would have one of her epileptic fits.

To most couples it might be quite embarrassing for one of those epileptic fits to happen when they were in public. Everyone would probably turn around to look to see what was going on. William “Major” McKinley would never get embarrassed. In fact, he would just pull a handkerchief out of his pocket, cover Ida’s face, and continue the conversation like nothing was going on. When her fit passed, the handkerchief was removed and things went on like normal.

More bad news would come to Ida on September 6, 1901. William McKinley would be shot at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The assassin, ironically, would walk up to McKinley, unnoticed, with a pistol in his hand that was covered with a handkerchief. As McKinley laid there dying, his thoughts turned not to his own condition, but to Ida. He would say, “My wife-be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her-oh, be careful!”

McKinley would hang on for six more days, but would finally die on September 14, 1901. Ida McKinley would live another five years. She passed away on May 26, 1907.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Azariah, Ishbak, Dan and Rosh are the names I gave some of the characters). Jesus asked which one of the passersby was the real neighbor. I suspect He really was asking which one showed unconditional love.

It takes a really special person to show unconditional love. It’s not natural. There are so many reasons to give up on someone, but one really good one to stay: unconditional love. When you witness examples like my wife, William McKinley, or the Good Samaritan you are shown how it should be done.

Prayer: Dear Mighty Father, Thank You for the examples of unconditional love. Thank You for Your unconditional love. Please help me to be able to show unconditional love to others. Amen.

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